This blog post is part of #KrakenFriends2018, a celebration of queer indie SFF hosted by the Kraken Collective! For the week of Jan. 26 – Feb 1, you can get 19 queer SFF stories for 99¢ apiece, including my novella Caroline’s Heart and the fabulous In Memoriam by ‘Nathan Burgoine, which this post is all about. Check out the sale here!
I made the mistake of starting ‘Nathan Burgoine’s In Memoriam over breakfast, which meant I spent the next hour weeping into my toast. I mean that in the best possible way — it’s a phenomenally funny, agonizing, heartfelt book, and I’m so delighted I got to interview ‘Nathan about it for #KrakenFriends2018.
With one diagnosis, editor James Daniels learns that he’s literally running out of time. Looking at his life, he sees one regret: Andy, the one that got away. Andy was the first man that James ever loved, but Andy has been gone for years, and might not want to be found.
But as his cancer progresses and James starts to lose his grip on time and memory, it might just be that time and memory are losing their grip on James, too.
It’s the biggest and most important re-write of his life. Restoring love from nothing but memory might be possible, if the past isn’t too far gone to fix.
Q: There are a lot of unusual pieces of this story that come together in beautiful ways: romance for a character who has just learned that he has weeks to live, blurry elements of speculative fiction, and a nonlinear narrative. How did this particular story come to be?
A: The seed of the story came from a moment I witnessed online, actually. A friend had announced a serious illness, and someone we knew—likely thinking it a positive affirmation—said the dreaded line “everything happens for a reason.” My friend was absolutely shattered, and we had a good long talk about it, and likely the person we knew in common had no idea they’d even said something wrong.
So I started from there. I don’t hate many things, but I reserve a sincere amount of antipathy for “everything happens for a reason” and its ilk, and it folded into a story idea I’d had for a while about a character revisiting his past and making different choices (something I’d wanted to do from the moment I watched ‘Being Erica,’ a Canadian television show I freaking adored). When it occurred to me to link the illness in question with the time-travel, it all started falling into place.
I generally live at the corner of romance and speculative fiction and a healthy dose of “the past/second chances” (it’s my comfort zone), and so the direction pretty much rolled onto the keyboard. When my editor, Jerry L. Wheeler, asked me if I had a novella in me on the theme of pursuit, everything clicked. I would write a man chasing the one that got away, and have him moving through his own memories (and time) to find him.
Q: James is a fantastic character — someone who uses humor to process everything from discomfort to tragedy in his life, sometimes to the distress and exasperation of his loved ones. How did you develop his character, and was his voice always a part of the story?
A: So, it’s possible I’ve admitted in the past that James is as close to a “me” character as I’ve ever written, and I won’t try to dispute that now. He’s so very much in synch with my personality, coping mechanisms and all. There’s a great line about how “comedy is just tragedy plus history,” meaning that in time everything is funny, but it’s safe to say I don’t need much history before the comedy kicks in.
Especially around issues of my own health, James’s attitude lines right up, too. The first time I collapsed in public and came to, I managed to say something like “It’s okay, I’m three months pregnant.” When I had a seizure coincidentally align with my husband tickling me, it’s possible I said something like, “look what you did!”
There are days where things get me down, and I truly struggle. But most of the time, I know I’m okay—or at least coping—if my gut instinct is to crack a joke about it. Writing a character who looks at life like that—and being honest about how people around him don’t always get it, and he doesn’t always realize his own impact—was pretty liberating.
Q: Did you have any particular influences for In Memoriam, literary or otherwise? For me, it evoked a lot of the early queer sci-fi I’ve read (David Gerrold, etc), so I was immediately curious as to whether you had drawn any inspiration from that era or another (or just pulled the whole brilliant thing out of your head).
A: I read a lot (I’m a former bookseller) and I know what I read tends to affect what I write, so I’m sure there was. When I wrote “In Memoriam” I believe I was also reading one of Rob Byrnes’s capers. Now, his capers aren’t sci fi, but they’re freaking hilarious, and I know that helped me maintain the course on the dialog and interaction of James and everyone around him: even in the face of the ugly, I wanted laughter to be the theme.
And I should totally admit the “Being Erica” thing again. That show. Totally captivated me, and the premise of a therapist sending someone back in time to learn how who they are related to what they chose then (vs. what they’d choose now) and all the lessons thereof? It really stuck with me.
Q: I was really touched by your depiction of multiple generations of queer characters— particularly the perspective of a forty-year-old man on his younger self and his loved ones. It’s rare to see queer romance with middle-aged and older characters, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on what it means to have multigenerational voices in queer stories.
A: This is probably my second-most wanted thing when I write. The first being chosen family and more visibility of how queer people come together and shore each other up. When I first came out, I got disowned. Between the bear community and the drag queen community, I was saved. From those two communities, I met the queer community at large through university as I managed to afford a course at a time, and the end result was a large chosen family.
The fact that the bears (for whom I was too tiny to belong) and the drag queens (for whom I was too untalented to belong) were the first to form ranks and keep me safe? They were my elders, usually by at least a generation. We don’t get to inherit a culture the way other people do, and it really matters to me that we maintain that sense of history and “who came before.”
I also think that has queer romance grows, we should vary who we’re writing about. It doesn’t always have to always be two queer twenty-somethings falling in love. I’d love to see more ensemble cast stories just about chosen families, frankly, including those of us watching our forties recede.
Q: Switching gears from In Memoriam, I love to hear about what you have coming up next! Any new releases we can look forward to?
A: My first love is—and always will be—short fiction, and I’m releasing my first collection in June with Bold Strokes Books, “Of Echoes Born.” Half the table of contents is new, begins with a story of a sixteen-year-old gay boy who realizes he can see auras and glimpse the future and the past, ends with a story revisiting him twenty years later, and otherwise moves about in my connected short fiction world where what’s queer intersects with what’s magical or psychic or in some way “other.” And it occurs to me thanks to your question earlier, the age range of the characters moves from sixteen to a couple in their seventies, with many stops between.
After that, my next book on the horizon (though it doesn’t have a release date yet) is a YA novel, “Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks.” It’s about Cole, a kid who is a bit of a planner, about to graduate high school, and has his whole life mapped out right up until the point when he develops a teleportation problem. There’s a nod to “In Memoriam” in it, too, but I’ll leave that up to readers to notice.